tv [untitled] April 7, 2012 2:00pm-2:30pm EDT
rider, and he used his own face for the fallen rider which is somewhat symbolic, doing this, took years and took its toll on him and they were going to dedicate the monument in 1922 about the same time as the lincoln memorial was dedicated and it was grant's 100th birthday and he died days before the dedication and he literally was trampled by that statue. each week at this time "american history tv" features an hourlong conversation from c-span's a sunday night interview series, "q and a." here's this week's encore "q and a" on "american history tv."
>> this week on "q and a," our guest is neil sheehan. his new book "a fiery peace in the cold war" is on the cold war. we also look back at mr. sheehan's book "a bright shining lie, america and vietnam" which won the pulitzer prize in 19 yin. >> neil sheehan, it was 21 years ago this month that you started this network on its trek to look at books and to do this interview show every sunday night at 8:00 and 11:00 but i want to show you a little moment from 21 years ago. what do you do want to do next? >> i don't really know. i want to help promote books.
and then the only specific thing i have in mind that i would like to do is to go back to vietnam. see what's happened. write about it. i'm not worried about it. i might go back to daily journalism. i don't really know. i stayed busy all my life and the one thing i've been taught is if you want to work, just find something to do. you learn as a newspaper man you go from story to story. in this case i went from book to book in 15 years and it's finally done now and i'll move on and do something else. >> that was your book "bright shining lie" 21 years ago. and the book i have in my hand is called "a fiery peace in a cold war, the ultimate weapon." 21 years later why did you decide to spend your time on this book? >> i decided i want to write another book rather than go back to newspapering. and first i went back to vietnam
as i mentioned and i did a short retrospective book on vietnam called "after the war was over" and then it was -- i had to find another topic, time to move on. and someone said to me, why don't you write a book on the arms race and the cold war. my god, that's a pretty broad subject. i want to do something with a narrative. and i started researching, this is about 1994 now. i was over at the air force association in arlington right near washington. and i was in their library, and they keep files on prominent air force figures. and someone said to me you ought to look up bernard shrever, so i asked about the file on bernard shrever and she handed it to me and i opened it up, and right there in the beginning of the file was a photograph of this
general leaning up against a table with all of these missiles around him. it's in the book. that photograph. and i said, this guy looks interesting. so, when i got home, i asked some questions about him. he was well known -- famous within the air force but not outside, when i got home i looked him up in the phone book. he turned out to be living in retirement eight blocks from my house, so i called him and arranged to come over and talk to him and it began the first of 52 interviews with him. and then i realized that this man had stood at a pivotal point in the cold war. we look at the cold war as one long glacial period. it wasn't. it was a period, there were changes, and particularly at the beginning it was a very unstable business in which we could have gone into nuclear war with the
soviets, and i realized after talking to this man that he had stood at the center of that pivotal period and when he and a group of others with vision had really saved us from what could well have been a nuclear war and you and i. but for him and those who worked with him, you and i might not be sitting here. we might well be irradiated dust. >> i have in my hand "bright shining light" the new version, brought out this year. this book is about 800 and some pages long. do you remember how many of the original copies of both paperback and hardback? >> hardcover sold dark the original hardcover sold about 165,000 copies. paperback i don't know. a lot more. >> and in our interview and for those who weren't with us 21 years ago when this all started, we sat down in a studio right across the hallway here for
2 1/2 hours and ran five 30-minute programs for five nights and you sat with us for the call-in show. in that particular interview, i'm going to show another clip from there where you talk about a man named john paul van, let's look about what you said about him. >> i realized that if i wrote a book about this extraordinary man it could tell the story of the war through him because he was such a compelling figure and he summed up in the ten years he was there the way we like to think about ourselves, the quality we admire in ourselves. this enormous drive. this analytical mind. incredible energy. only needing four hours of sleep a night, the fearlessness.
all of these things. we really admired in ourselves as people. and he had devoted himself to that and i felt that if i wrote a story, a biography of myself, i would write a history of war, that's why i started out and then, of course, it was too late to go back. >> 15 years as you said earlier you spent on that book. how many years in total did you spend on this book? >> only about 14 years. >> did bennie schreiver turn out like john paul van was for you? >> yes. >> why? >> there was a period in the cold war, first we got the bomb, then we fell into this period of hostilities with the soviet union and they acquired their bomb and it was a very unstable period of time. we were dependent because you
had to bring this nuclear possession of the bomb by both sides to some sort of stability. and there was no stability because we were depending on the aircraft, the bomber, the strategic air command under curtis lamay who is the figure -- the general in stanley kubrick's "dr. strangelove." the soviets decided not to go down that road. they were going down the road of intercontinental ballistic missiles, they were working their way toward building one. you only got 15 minutes warning of the incoming missiles because of the limitation of the radar. if they had acquired a fleet of icbms, they would have destroyed the credibility of the airplane as a deterrent and you'd have
got a period of real instability in which you would have gotten adventurism by soviet leaders and you would have gotten a nuclear war which would have destroyed the northern hemisphere, the nuclear winter and the radioactive dust coming down every type it rained, killing everyone. and so you had to bring stability to this period, and which schreiver saw, he and later those who worked for him, saw what was happening, that we had to build our own fleet of missiles in order to create a nuclear stalemate which is what he did, he and those who worked with him did. they created a situation where neither country could pull off what was called a first strike against the other and escape destruction itself.
eisenhower had lived in fear of what he called a nuclear pearl harbor which was a surprise attack by the soviets. it's called a first strike in nuclearese, nuclear strategy. and by building our own set of weapons, we created this nuclear stalemate which neither country could pull off a first strike and you got stability which lasted except for khrushchev who was the exemplar of the soviet adventure who almost would have done nuclear war in the cuba missile crisis. once this sunk in, you had brezhnev who did not want nuclear war. he was the status quo type, he wanted to enjoy the perks of power, the mistresses, the collection of foreign cars, including a lincoln nixon gave him. they were opponents, but they
were not into destroying their own country to destroy ours. so these men saved us from the probability of a nuclear war. and they are genuine american heroes and he personified it. >> go back. this is in 1955 when all the discussions became very active up to this day, i got on the internet today and you can correct me if my figures are wrong, but there's at least 5,500 intercontinental ballistic missiles active today, with the navy and the army, am i right about that? >> that's probably too high for icbms but in terms of missiles, yes. you have the navy which are icbms out of the nuclear submarine and 450 minute men which are intercontinental missiles on alert and the army has tactical missiles. >> and all of that happened starting back when you started basically this book.
>> yes, that's right. because we were -- general lamay who was in command of strategic air command believed in the bomber. it was his id, he'd been the great bomber leader in world war ii. i don't know if you've seen a film called "12:00 high" about the bombing of germany in 1942-'43 when these men were going through without fighter escort taking on german fighters for an hour and a half, fighting their way deep into germany to bomb the industries. lamay lost 40 bombers in the first raid on the mezsserschmit works. he was opposed to the program. schreiver saw the missile would destroy the credibility of the
aircraft. he was a visionary. and pressed ahead against major opposition from lamay and the other bomber generals. >> how much firepower is on the tip of the icbms today? >> right now the minute men has enough to destroy several cities. >> but compared to, say, hiroshima or nagasaki? >> vastly more. two or three megaton. and one megaton equals 80 hiroshimas. >> let me go back to bennie schreiver, four star general before it was over, died you say june 20th, 2005, at 94 years old. you did 52 interviews with this man. split that up. what was the environment and how long did you talk to him? >> we would meet on saturday. he was in between marriages when i first met him, and we would meet on saturday mornings at his house which is eight blocks from where i live in northwest
washington. and before he went to lunch at burning tree which was his golf club. and we would -- and i would pick up where i left off the last time and i'd take him through the story. and it was -- and we got -- he was a very -- bernie was a -- bennie was a very thoughtful man. he wanted to make sure that you were the person to tell his story. at first he was a bit standoffish with me. then he decided that i was the person to tell the story and he became very cooperative. >> how old was he when you first met tw hwith him? >> in his 80s. but in excellent health. excellent health. with all of his mental faculties fully intact, mentally acute. i said, general, i've got to have your entire military record, the whole thing, the
very beginning, from 1932 when you joined the army air corps good or bad. and he didn't have that. i said, you got to submit it, you've got to ask for it i need it. fine. and he did. and he withheld nothing, and he asked all the people that worked for him that were still with us to talk to me, tell me the truth and they, of course, led to others. and i was racing the grim reaper because these were older men and they were in their twilight years, so i had to really work fast and hard to get -- i did 120 interviews to get the interviews i needed to tell the story to get a narrative to tell the story. i believe as you know writing history in narrative form because i think you have -- and i believe in catching that segment -- that segment of
history which is in men's minds, the memory. the important segment of history. if you don't catch it while they're still alive, obviously it's gone forever. >> the woman he married was joanie james. >> that's right. >> is she still alive? >> she is still alive and she is still living in the home they shared together when i first met him before they married. >> she was 20 years younger than he was. >> yes, they met in palm beach and fell in love and got married in his later years. he was 87 when they married. but happy 87 to have married her and he was a lucky guy. i called him lucky. he never had a -- he joined the air corps when planes were unsafe.
bennie never had a crash. >> you were at the funeral. >> yes. >> i'm just going to dip into a little part of the narrative here and get you to explain a couple of things. you wrote he bent over joanie for a few minutes with words of condolence while everyone watched in curiosity. the man was donald rumsfeld, secretary of defense, since the outset of the administration of george w. bush, doomed to a resignation in disgrace because of his fervid promotion of the catastrophic war in iraq. both of those, the last statement from you about the catastrophic war in iraq i want you to talk about but also before that explain that funeral and why was don rumsfeld there and all the other as you say 44 stars were there at that time. >> yes, well the chief of staff of the air force was general jumper. first of all, i should back off,
schreiver became to be known as the modern technological air force as a result of building the icbm and advocating other technological advances. he was a technological visionary. and who was a technological visionary and schreiver was his disciple and descendant and the air force was deeply grateful for this man for what he had accomplished and for the air force he'd created. and so general jumper who was chief of staff decided he was not going to be buried as just a four star general, he was going to be buried as a chief of staff and so they gave him all the honors they would have normally given a chief of staff, a flyover of the plane, very dramatic, three aircraft in the space of the missing copilot,
missing wing man. and then rumsfeld i gather felt that he had to come and pay tribute, too, and so in the midst of -- at the last minute, just before the last few minutes, just before the ceremony ended, rumsfeld suddenly showed up from the wings as joanie who is a stage star that he looked like an actor coming in from the wings. he came in and he said some words of condolence to her and then he disappeared. >> how well did you get to know him from a personal standpoint and was it tough on you when he died? >> it was, in the sense that -- well, he was -- he was 94 years old. and he was -- he was declining and had been declining for several years. but it was tough in the sense that i hated to this see this -- i'd gotten to respect this man and we'd become very good
friends. and i had really come to respect and understand what he had accomplished and he helped me. he said to me after we got to know each other well during one of these reunions, they had one every year, called the old-timers reunion and he said to me, look, i want you to do this right. i won't be here when it's finished, i know that, but i want you to do this right. i want you to tell the story right, and so i had enormous respect for him, but he died in the fullness of his life. when one couldn't regret it. he had a really full life and a good life. and he had accomplished what he set out to accomplish and he'd helped me tell the story through people. which is what -- i believe in writing history well and in a narrative form, in novelistic
form. but you have to be careful. you have to tell -- it's tough to do that way because you have to make sure you don't distort the truth. and by using him, he was my lens on this story as van was my lens on vietnam. >> want to talk about the vietnam thing and they connected again and ask you after we show this clip about your statement about the iraq war, but let's go back to, last time i saw you it was about ten years ago when we did a series on writers, we were down on the mall, vietnam memorial, we talked for three hours about your book and his book, but here's david haverstamm at that time with you sitting next to him. let's watch this. will there ever be coverage of any future endeavor, any war endeavor in this country like had was in vietnam? >> i would not think so because i don't think we're going to get
into a long grinding war like that again. in the gulf war, it was all high technology and then you had about four days of armored combat and then, of course, in afghanistan it's various units that go in where you can't have reporters i don't think camping out with them. part of it is the new nature of the technology and the elite units, lasers and stuff like that and part of it is a desire to control the reporting. but you really can't control reporting if things don't work. it will out and that's one thing they'll find. if it doesn't work, people will know. >> david haverstamm killed in a strange automobile accident out in california. what was your reaction when you heard that? the >> oh, it was devastating. david was a very close friend. he and i were partners in vietnam. he worked together there. he worked for "the new york times." i was with the upi and we partnered up. we shared -- we would each -- we
shared an office which was the front room of my apartment there, it was the dining room table. he typed on one side. i typed on the other. we kept the friendship all those years from 1963 on. and we didn't see each other as often as i would have liked because he lived in new york and i lived down here. but we'd talk on the phone frequently. and i hear his voice all the time, the phone rings and i hear david say, how you doing, old buddy. it was a very close, wonderful friendship. and it was so sudden, the death in that auto accident. susan, my wife susan, who is also as you know a writer, she come up the stairs and she said david's gone. and she was heartbroken over it. and i was just -- i broke down. i couldn't help it. he was -- he was just -- he meant so much.
he was a wonderful journalist and a great guy and a really loyal friend. >> we have some video of this meeting -- >> we met 40 years ago and we've been pals ever since. and, you know, we worked together. i felt i was so lucky to have a younger brother that i'd never had out there, and, i mean, to work with someone so fearless and so optimistic and so talented a reporter, it was one of the gifts of my life. >> do you see him much over the ten years from the time we did this program? >> yes, we would talk on the phone and see each other. he came down for my daughter's wedding. he was godfather to my older daughter. >> but you are still controversial years later, you were responsible for the pentagon papers being published in "the new york times" but part of that you all still had this profile and people still can get upset to this day about what they think you did to the whole
vietnam war. what's your take on it all these years later? were you right? >> i think we were right, 83. >> what does that mean being right? >> we reported what was really happening in vietnam. i mean, there was -- the command in those early years, general hearkens and the ambassador general were convinced they were winning the war. and the regime was respected by the population. it was a myth. it was a total myth. they were using the war and the regime was despised by most of the population. wasn't respected even by his own people when he'd come down to for a speech at the national assembly which was a nphony bod. the civil servants were assem e assembled to have a crowd, they would lie down and go to sleep in the street. incredible.
we would go out to the countryside and the advisers in the countryside, the military advisers, would tell us the war was being lost and we'd go out on military operations and we would see it ourselves. and we'd go back to saigon and we'd write the story and all hell would break loose from the military headquarters, we were told how displeased general hearkens was by our reporting. these advisers in the field who were telling us the truth were part of -- when i wrote my book, i saw their reports. he just ignored them, ignored the reports of his own people. general, we have terrible problems, we're losing the war. schreiver didn't do that. he overcame the technological problems inherent in building these missiles was because he
was willing to listen, always listening. and he'd tell his people, don't -- he did not hold progress briefings like harkins did. there was always progress. schreiver hold the opposite. he told his people, look, give me the bad news. i can stand the bad news. i will not fire you for giving me the bad news. i will fire you if you don't give me the bad news, and they'd have a monthly briefing they called black saturday which was -- in which you talked about your problem. because his attitude was if we solve the problem, success will take care of itself. >> come to this statement you make in this book and i'll ask you why did you say that the -- george bush iraq war doomed to and donald rumsfeld due to
resignation in disgrace because of his fervid war in iraq. >> because it had gone on all these years without any resolution whatsoever. we've spent god knows how much money involved in the process. we've lost a hell of a lot of life. we've inflicted terrible pain on the population of iraq and killed a hell of a lot of iraqi people for no good end. there still is no resolution to it. and no one has any idea of what's going to happen in the future except there might well be more chaos. if george bush had really been involved in the war in vietnam which he wasn't, he escaped it by joining the texas national guard which his father got him into, and cheney got five draft deferments, rumsfeld was not involved in the war, wolfowitz got several draft deferments, these men were not involved in
vietnam, if they had been, you might have known that you don't fight an unnecessary war. you don't go off and fight a war of choice which is what it was because once you fire the first shot, you don't know what's going to happen after that. and they -- their misjudgments on iraq were colossal from the very beginning when the looting started in that museum in baghdad, this thing is out of control, these people have no idea what the hell they're doing. >> back to the two books one on vietnam and the current one on bernard schreiver and the whole icbm effort, one or the other easier or more difficult to write? >> they were both very difficult for me. >> let me show you, then, what you said, this is our -- i want to ask you about something called writer's block back in our first interview 21 years ago. ever find yourself blocked as a writer? >>